FEATURED ARTIFACTS: HISPANIC AMERICAN
Hispanic American Heritage Month
Each year, September 15 through October 15 is designated as National Hispanic Heritage Month. Nearly 500,000 Hispanic Americans served in the American military during World War II. The figures are imprecise because, except for Puerto Ricans, data on Hispanics was not collected. Over 53,000 Puerto Ricans served between 1940 and 1946, and an estimated 350,000 Mexican Americans entered the armed forces during the war.
Staff Sgt. James A. Mendez was one of them. A native of Los Angeles, Mendez enlisted in the US Army on 2 May 1944 at the age of 22. He entered service at Fort MacArthur, California, and served with the 127th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater. He participated in the Southern Philippines and Luzon campaigns. For his service, he was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Bronze Star. Over the course of the war, 13 Hispanic Americans received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Unlike African Americans, Hispanics were integrated into the military. But some National Guard units from Texas, New Mexico, California, and Puerto Rico had an especially high Hispanic representation. The war had a profound effect on the Hispanic community. Returning veterans began to challenge the widespread discrimination against Hispanics in American society.